The influence of Japanese food on American cuisine is huge – and we were excited to experience the real deal while we were in Tokyo. We weren’t disappointed! The food was definitely reminiscent of the things we’d find in the States, but much more emphasis was placed on the non-sushi items available. Of course, sushi was to be had:
We had a really nice flight from Singapore to Tokyo. And that’s coming from the girl with the deathly phobia of flying. Really smooth, beautiful views and the food was good too. It was a daytime flight, unusual for such a long flight, but I loved seeing some of the tropical islands and other scenery from the air.
We arrived in Tokyo just around sunset and began the adventure of getting to our hotel. Since we only had a week in Japan we decided to book one hotel for the whole time and just focus on seeing the city. It wasn’t enough time to see much else without having to race around like crazy and Tokyo is such a huge city we figured there would be plenty to see and do.
Tokyo is a very expensive place. Our first encounter with this was just getting from the airport to our hotel. The airport is about 80 kilometers from the city, and the convenient travel options are extremely costly. We opted to take the local trains instead, an adventurous move for people who speak zero Japanese. The subways in Japan take a little figuring out and although the main lines have signs in English, the smaller stations and trains rarely used by tourists do not always. Fortunately, before we left the airport we grabbed a “Tokyo Handy Guide” (free at a ton of different tourist locations) which was a lifesaver in finding our way around. Seriously, if you are going to Tokyo try to get one of these!
As I mentioned in our post about the food in Singapore, there are indoor markets with giant food courts all over the city. Since we’re not big on shopping we had mostly just focused on the food section, but after a delicious meal one day we decided to take a wander through the rest of the market.
We were in luck for our fabric project! One of the first stalls we came across had some gorgeous designs on nice cotton fabric. Perfect for quilting and so much easier than our searches in many of the other countries! We had trouble deciding what to buy as there were lots of pretty patterns. In the end we picked three that were thought were unusual or a bit distinctive. Very happy with these ones!
Sorry, this post is a little out of order since it was before we got to Singapore. I still want to show of our fun Malaysian fabric though!
Our time in Malaysia was so jam-packed with action that we hadn’t had a chance to search for the fabric right up until the last minute. After a pretty damp day in Borneo we were all set to fly back to Kuala Lumpur and head out to Singapore the next morning. As we pulled in to the airport I realized that this might be our last chance to get any fabric from Malaysia!
Of course, there wasn’t a fabric shop at the airport, but they did have a great two for the price of one deal going on sarongs! This meant that we wound up with much more fabric than we really needed, but the patterns are awesome and will definitely remind me of that part of the world. And maybe we will even keep one of them as a sarong.
While in Singapore we had one Friday night where we wanted to go out on the town. Being the big partiers that we are, we decided that a bar is just not party-hard enough for us! We instead opted for an ingenious venue found on a very touristy street: the Game Cafe!
The thing that drew us in was a special – all you can drink sugary drinks, and all you can eat chips, and all you can game, all night, for a very reasonable price! We were sold! Little did we know that we’d find classics in this game shop. One of our favorites while we lived in California was the “Bean Game”, also known as Bohnanza, and we happened to find it there! Of course, it was just the two of us so the game wasn’t up to its normal form. We also found Quoridor, a game I had in high school, and tried out a bunch of new games as well.
The real entertainment of the night, however, was a giant group of 15 or so people who were playing a very loud group game – and would spontaneously burst out laughing. Kept the mood lifted! We had a blast — game nights are something you just don’t get so often while you’re travelling.
The first thing that struck me about Singapore is how clean the city is. Seriously, they must sweep constantly and there are heavy fines for littering. No grimy, dirty streets here!
We stayed at an excellent hostel which was a really good deal compared to other places in the area. Singapore is not cheap, but A Beary Good Hostel was reasonably priced, a pleasant place to stay, and wonderfully located right next to a subway station in Chinatown. We were able to walk or take the subway and see a lot of the famous sights.
We had a couple of days of relaxing (we were tired after our long travel and days in the jungle) and exploring the city. So here are some highlights of our time in Singapore.
I’ll start this post out by saying that almost everything we tasted in Singapore was excellent. Singapore is not a particularly cheap place, but we were able to do pretty well by mostly eating at our local food court. We stayed in Chinatown and there were plenty of tasty morsels to try!
We found that the best strategy was to go to the food court (kind of like a mix between a market and a food court you would find in a mall here), look around until we found a longish line and then get in that line and order whatever everyone else was eating. Singapore has very strict regulations about food handling and cleanliness, so pretty much anywhere food is being sold it’s likely to be edible.
We had delicious noodles with pork.
We had a bit of a trip ahead of us to get from Borneo to Singapore. Remember that thunderstorm which got us completely soaking wet after we saw the orangutans? Well, it made for a very slow taxi ride to the airport and a fairly bumpy flight back to Kuala Lumpur. It was 11 pm or so by the time we got in and we had to be on a train to Singapore early the next morning.
Justin did an awesome job planning this segment because he found us a hotel right by the airport, meaning we could get to bed right away and still be near transportation to the train station the next morning. What he found was Tune hotels, which are a little different than normal hotels. I don’t have any pictures, but I’ll try to describe it the best I can. Or, just click on the link and look at their description.
Basically, it’s a hotel modeled after a budget airline. So you get a really cheap, really tiny room, and anything else you might want has an extra cost associated with it. The beds were some of the best we encountered in our travels, the shower was awesome, very clean, etc., but hardly enough space for us and our backpacks. Especially since we had wet, muddy clothes we wanted to hang up from the jungle! We didn’t need many of the add-ons. In fact, we paid about 32 cents each, each direction, to get the shuttle from the airport to the hotel and about 65 cents to have a towel provided since we wanted to keep ours dry. And that was it!
I’m not sure how a place like that would be for a longer stay, but for what we needed it was perfect. I have never seen this concept anywhere else, but it looks from their website like they are an international chain. So who knows, maybe this will be the next big thing!
Our last activity in Malaysia was a trip to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. I was really excited for this because we had not seen any orangutans in the wild and they are some of my favorite animals.
We stayed at a pretty good hostel close enough to walk over to the sanctuary, so we were able to get there in the morning for the first feeding of the day. There are two sessions, morning and afternoon, but if you buy a ticket you can go to both of the sessions in the day. This is the best chance of seeing the orangutans because the sanctuary covers a huge area of land and you are pretty unlikely to see them unless they are coming to get food. (more…)
After our really great diving trip out of Mabul Island, we moved on to the last part of my Malaysian adventure: the Kinabatangan river and the jungle areas near it. This river is a really special place for seeing wildlife – there are several species of monkeys, orangutans, crocodiles, elephants, hornbills, eagles, and many more to be seen. The reason it’s so special, though, is rather depressing – since so much of Borneo has been converted into palm oil plantations, the once-vast jungle around the Kinabatangan has been reduced over time to its current size – just 1 km to either side of the river. There is simply nowhere else for the wildlife to go, so you can easily see it from the comfort of your riverboat.
Nevertheless, it is a place that still manages to feel like it’s out in the middle of nowhere. We stayed at Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, one of many outfits that offers lodging and daily trips out on the river. I picked this particular place because of both the good reviews it got on the Web and because of the price – which was far lower for the basic Kinabatangan adventure than many of the other spots. In addition, the staff were responsive to my emails and informative in their replies – something that is rare in Borneo. Our accommodation was sufficient – it was rather basic and small, but comfortable – and all the on-site staff were super friendly.
To get there, we took a rather nice coach from Semporna to a random “coffeeshop” – just a strip of restaurants on the side of the road – where we were supposed to meet up with the tour bus. Of course (being Malaysia) the bus was late, but we met a few other couples on their way to the same place and that gave us confidence that we’d actually be arriving to our destination! The tour bus that did eventually come was a massive 4×4 setup, and we ended up needing it to get past the potholes and puddles and other things that we found on the way to the lodge. A short boat ride across the river took us the last leg, where we were greeted with a short introduction, welcome juice and a few forms to fill out. Before long we left on our first boat ride of the 3 day / 2 night trip, and we weren’t disappointed! There were 4 boat trips all together – two afternoon and two morning. We saw tons of wildlife! I’ll start with the birds: